Staten Island Yankees respond to ‘Blue Lives Matter Day’ controversy

A policeman stands next to an image of slain New York Police Department officer Wenjian Liu during his funeral in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 4, 2015. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appealed for reconciliation on Sunday in his eulogy for the second of two police officers murdered last month, two deaths that led to accusations the mayor had contributed to an anti-police climate. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW OBITUARY)

A New York Yankees minor-league affiliate says it was surprised by the controversy surrounding a “Blue Lives Matter Day” held at its ballpark Sunday.

Social-justice activists and left-leaning websites criticized the timing of the event, which took place on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., but team officials insist it was simply a coincidence.

Blue Lives Matter NYC, a charity for the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, hosted the fundraising event during a baseball game between the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark.

The families of NYPD detectives Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos — who were shot and killed by a lone gunman in Brooklyn in December 2014 — were honored during the ball game. One of Liu’s family members threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

“It was treated just as we do with every group that comes in. It was pretty standard. We get these inquiries many times a week,” Jane Rogers, the team’s president and general manager, said in an interview with Yahoo News.

The Staten Island Yankees, like many other minor-league teams, regularly let local charities run 50-50 lotteries during their ball games.

“It was really a coincidence that it fell on the anniversary date,” Rogers said. “There was never any intent to connect the days in any way. We just wanted to provide a space like any other group looking to fundraise at the ballpark.”

NYPD Sgt. Joe Imperatrice, the nonprofit’s founder and president, likened the organization to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He said no one was aware of the date’s significance during preparation.

“We were just focused on having something positive come out of something negative,” he told Yahoo News. “We just wanted to get them out of the house and put a smile on their face.”

Their goal was to raise money for the Liu and Ramos families, who lost their main source of income, to help pay for their children’s college tuition.

“Even nine months later, it’s very hard, so we want the families to know that people care for them and are still there to support them,” Imperatrice said. “People of all nationalities were there. It was a great day.”

Attendees received a Blue Lives Matter wristband featuring the Staten Island Yankees logo with every ticket purchase.

“We’re not here to take sides. We’re not here to back anything politically,” he said. “We’re here to tell the families that we’ll never let them down and we’re always here to help them.”

Many Black Lives Matter demonstrators are offended by the slogans Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.

Kirsten Savali, a cultural critic for the Root, an online magazine on African-American culture, said that with this event the baseball team “unapologetically spits” in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Staten Island Yankees wanted to send a statement today, and they did: Black lives don’t matter to them or the Yankees organization,” Savali wrote. “On today of all days, they made it clear that not only is baseball ‘America’s Favorite Pastime,’ but it goes hand in hand with the continued dehumanization of black Americans.”

Similarly, Judd Legum, the editor in chief of the liberal blog Think Progress, argued that Blue Lives Matter is insensitive in that it draws attention away from victims of police violence.

“Like the refrain ‘All Lives Matter,’ it is used — online and elsewhere — to undercut the notion that there is a particular problem with police brutality against people of color,” he wrote.

Michael Holley, senior director of marketing and fan experience for the Staten Island Yankees, says he was caught off-guard by the negative press.

“Maybe we should have seen it coming, but we were so focused on helping the families from day one that that’s where all of our thought has gone,” he said to Yahoo News.

From the beginning, Holley said, Blue Lives Matter NYC made it clear that they were not interested in turning the stadium into a political space. The group knew that both deceased officers’ families were baseball fans, he said.

“We do it all the time for all kinds of organizations,” Holley said. “We are open for anyone who needs help as a platform to raise money, regardless of affiliation. We just want to represent our community as accurately as possible.”